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5 Non-Tech Ways To Be a Better Developer

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Matthew Tyson

3 years ago | 4 min read

Want to go learn another language, framework or paradigm?

Fine, but you might never understand these characteristics that really count when it comes to how you are perceived.

Here’s the top five things that I’ve observed set you apart from other developers.

5. Ask Questions

If you are a newer developer, or new to a project, you might be shy about asking about things that don’t make sense. You need to just get over that.

I finally realized to myself: “You are smart enough that if something doesn’t make sense, then you can frame a reasonable question.”

I thought for a while that asking a question would most likely reveal my own ignorance, and I needed to just keep on grinding on learning.

Identify and cultivate those people in your environment who will help you out in a friendly way.

Until you can become one of those people (see point 3).

Don’t over-indulge in this, though. Exercise moderation.

4. Don’t Ask Questions

This is the antithesis to point number 1. This is where you know you could figure something out by focusing on it harder and applying more elbow grease.

This is where you earn your cred because you stuck.

I know several moments in my career where I did this, and it bumped my value in three ways.

For one, it displayed for others that I was a person who could get down to it in a hard situation and make something happen.

For the second, I harvested deep knowledge that other’s would have. Why? Because it was a hard thing to get

Third: it convinced myself on a deep level about my capabilities. Put another way: it gives you confidence.

And by the way, the feeling of solving a brutal problem yourself is a reward on its own. Much better than caving in and asking so-and-so, who can figure it out faster because so-and-so stood so-and-so’s ground so many times by themselves.

3. Answer Questions

Here is where you become the kind of person that other’s turn to. You have knowledge about the tech, the domain and/or the project, and you are willing to take the extra step of giving others a hand.

I read about this role in dev in a book early in my career (wish I could remember the title), and looked around the projects I was on and could quickly identify these folks.

The book described how being this kind of person increases your value, so I can’t really lay claim to noticing this on my own, however, I can certainly vouch for the truth of it.

Interestingly, you pass through and master 1 and 2 on your way to becoming this kind of developer. In a sense, it is the synthesis of 1 and 2.

Now you are becoming so-and-so who can help other’s when they are lost.

2. Speak Up

Once you feel strong enough, there is a point where you must be willing to notice and bring out issues and ideas. This is not just asking questions like number 1; this is where you contribute in a larger way to the available mental capital.

Let me use an example from my experience to illustrate.

I was on a project as a developer, and I had observed there was a place where unique ids were being generated, and it appeared to be a bottle neck in the overall system architecture.

I rolled this around in my head for a while, and finally I brought it up in a dev meeting.

The lead dev was a guy named Ram, who was like a kind Hindu father figure that I and other’s liked and respected. I both didn’t want to make him look bad or myself look stupid, but I finally just kind of blurted it out.

He looked at me, and thought about it, and finally nodded and said let’s talk about it more one on one. In our private conversation was the moment I really felt I moved into looking at myself as lead-developer material.

Ram did also, and began giving me more broad-scoped things to tackle, and relying on me as a sounding board.

It’s strange to look back on such a small thing as momentous, but I really believe it was. It probably will be for you, if it hasn’t already.

Find your voice, and lend your unique perspective.

1. Bring Something Beyond Just Being a Developer

I’ll be honest here: this may not bring in more money. This is about real value.

Jobs, projects and technologies: they come and go. Trust me on this.

You can get in a mode where everything in the tech world can seem very real, in fact, it can start to feel like the only thing that is real.

But it isn’t.

Did you ever see the movie Bridge on the River Kwei? No? Go watch it.

Without spoiling the movie, there is a moment where Alec Guiness (yes, Obi Wan), realizes he has devoted himself to a technological problem at the expense of what is really important.

Don’t do this.

Find your highest meaning. Push yourself to grow. You must cultivate what is deeply important. Scan your heart relentlessly.

Remember that you are a work in progress and you are growing all the time, even now, this very moment. The things that are challenging and growth-rewarding now will fade in time, to become something different.

Keep these deeper things in mind.

You’ll thank me later.

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